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My son came home talking about Martin Luther King, Jr. this week. He learned about him in school, of course — the first one in our immediate tribe to hear about him as a fact and not a threat:

See this picture, Mommy? He’s waving hello. And he’s saying, “White people, you be nice to black people. And black people, you be nice to white people.”

That about covers it.

Being the public address nerd that I am, I said, “Let’s watch his speech!” And more motivated by the snuggling than the learning, he settled into my lap for a viewing.

“He said Stone Mountain, Georgia! I know where that is. That’s where the presidents heads are carved — George Washington, George Bush, and Abraham Lincoln.”

Oh, so close. So, so close and so very, very far. “You’re thinking of Mount Rushmore. But we’ve been to Stone Mountain, remember? There are presidents carved into stone there, but presidents of the Confederacy.”

“What’s the Confederacy?”

Sigh. . . . Where to begin. I did my best. The differences between the North’s industry and South’s agriculture. The labor-intensity of cotton. And slavery. I hate talking about slavery.

I ended up at Abraham Lincoln’s conclusion that the South’s leaving the Union was no option at all. And the Blue Coats and the Grey Coats.

We listened some more and jumped ahead a hundred years to the Civil Rights Movement. I told him that right here in Greenville, people couldn’t eat lunch in a restaurant simply because they were black. Or drink from the same water fountain or use the same bathroom.

I finally sighed through saying, “And you know what, honey? Mommy has just discovered one of the most hateful sources of this racism. Right here in Greenville. That’s Mommy’s job right now — working with God as He makes that crooked path straight.”

While I was stuck in my little Public Speaking 121 lecture, I listened to this greatest speech of the 20th-century again. For the first time in a long time. King’s talking about the same thing I read during Advent. It sounds different now than it did in my previous life.

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together:

No wonder King was such a threat. Shalom is a threat. A threat to habits, isolation, pride, greed. And King was just preaching Shalom. No, I think he was singing it.


6 thoughts on “Shalom

  1. This scripture text gets a double hearing in liturgical churches this time of year.

    We read this passage from Isiah chapter 40 during Advent as you mentioned.

    “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together:”

    But we also have it as part of the readings for the Baptism of Our Lord (often celebrated as the second Sunday of Epiphany). John the Baptist quotes this passage from Isiah 40 in Luke chapter 3 verses 4 to 6. Notice that when John quotes the passage here there is a slight change in the text.

    “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.
    5 Every valley shall be filled,
    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
    and the crooked shall become straight,
    and the rough places shall become level ways,
    6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

    The text change is in the last line. “…shall see the glory of the the Lord” becomes “shall see the Salvation of our God.”

    When one of our pastors preached on this text recently he said that the Hebrew word for “glory” is the same as the Greek word for “salvation.” I am not an ancient language scholar and would like someone with these language skills to verify this claim.

    Both Isiah and John (the baptizer) are announcing the reconciliation and restoration of God to his people. As God’s people we have the responsibility (and ability) to share that same message to all of those made in God’s image.

    Hail to the Lord’s anointed,
    Great David’s greater Son!
    Hail, in the time appointed,
    his reign on earth begun!
    He comes to break oppression,
    to set the captive free,
    to take away transgression
    and rule in equity.

    He comes with rescue speedy
    to those who suffer wrong,
    to help the poor and needy
    and bid the weak be strong;
    to give them songs for sighing,
    their darkness turned to light,
    whose souls condemned and dying,
    were precious in his sight.

    He shall come down like showers
    upon the fruitful earth;
    Love, joy, and hope, like flowers,
    spring in his path to birth.
    Before him on the mountains
    shall peace, the herald, go;
    and righteousness in fountains
    from hill to valley flow.

    Kings shall fall down before him
    and gold and incense bring;
    all nations shall adore him,
    his praise all people sing.
    To him shall prayer unceasing
    and daily vows ascend;
    his kingdom still increasing,
    a kingdom without end.

    O’er every foe victorious,
    he on his throne shall rest,
    from age to age more glorious,
    all blessing and all-blest.
    The tide of time shall never
    his covenant remove:
    his name shall stand forever–
    that name to us is Love.

    —James Montgomery (1821)

  2. Kate came home with MLK stuff too, what she got out of it was treat others with kindness and respect, which was interesting to me. That’s *part* of it. But JUSTICE is the biggest piece. Justice leading to shalom. Especially teaching a class with one white student, I’d think they would have talked more about it.

    We spend a good part of the morning talking about it, so I feel like we covered a lot for a kindergartener.

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